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Analysis: Mississippi protects plastic bags, keeps symbols

April 1, 2018

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — One of many clichés at the Mississippi Capitol is that decisions are best made by types of government that are closest to the people.

Legislators say it when advocating for education policies to be set by state or local school boards rather than the federal government. They also say it to denounce federal regulation of businesses.

Yet, some of the same Mississippi officials who say they favor local control are enacting a new state law that specifically tells city and county governments what they cannot do about plastic grocery bags.

Senate Bill 2570 , which becomes law July 1, bans local governments from regulating, restricting or imposing any fees or taxes on bags, cups, bottles or other single-use packaging. It lists the materials of packaging that cannot be limited — “cloth, paper, plastic, cardboard, corrugated material, aluminum, glass, postconsumer recycled material, or similar material or substrates, including coated, laminated or multilayer substrates.”

Some other parts of the U.S. are regulating plastic bags, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures . But, the issue has barely been discussed in Mississippi.

That wasn’t the only legislation that could micromanage people’s lives.

House Bill 80 , which also becomes law July 1, sets a fine of $5 to $50 for habitually driving in the left lane of a highway, which is supposed to be used as a passing lane. People who take driver’s education are taught not to linger in the left lane, and a lot of travelers are annoyed by slow drivers who do it. The new law specifies that it’s OK to drive in the left lane if right lane is in disrepair or is under construction. Getting ready to take a left exit is also acceptable. Critics worry, though, that the new law could be randomly enforced.

Mississippi legislators file thousands of bills and resolutions each year, and most of them die.

Some bills that died during the 2018 session proposed substantial changes such as rewriting the education funding formula or setting a long-term plan to pay for improvements to highways and bridges.

Other legislation that went nowhere dealt with symbols.

Several bills pushed the idea of changing the state song. One proposed creating a second song that would share status with “Go, Mississippi,” which legislators adopted as the state song in 1962. “Go, Mississippi” shares a tune with “Roll With Ross,” the 1959 campaign song of Ross Barnett, who was still governor in 1962. He won the state’s highest office as an unapologetic defender of segregation.

Five of the bills this year, including House Bill 984 , pushed the same song, “Mississippi Beautiful,” written by Pam Confer, a jazz singer based in Jackson. Senate Bill 2106 proposed that Mississippi have two official songs by music legends from the state: a traditional country song, “Miss The Mississippi and You,” by Jimmie Rodgers, and a traditional blues song, “Cross Road Blues,” by Robert Johnson.

Two resolutions that died dealt with a different kind of symbol — one of two statues that represent Mississippi in the U.S. Capitol.

House Concurrent Resolution 32 proposed replacing the statue of Confederate Col. James Zachariah George with blues legend B.B. King.

House Concurrent Resolution 48 proposed replacing the George statue with one of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.

House leaders declined to consider any bills to either remove or protect the Confederate battle emblem that has been on the state flag since 1894. The emblem has been a divisive symbol for years. House Rules Committee Chairman Jason White, a Republican from West, said there was no consensus among House members to debate the issue.

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Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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